How to increase phone storage
Free up memory on your mobile WITHOUT spending money
Don't assume that just because you've run out of space you need to shell out for storage or a new, higher-spec mobile, especially as the same type of phone with more memory can cost up to £180 more. There are lots of ways to claw back GBs without paying a penny – this guide explains how.
Have you found a trick we haven't? Let us know
Operating systems and apps are constantly being updated, so while we've just added more tips and tricks to this guide, there could be newer ones already – or simply ones we've not found.
Let us know any tricks we've not covered here via the MSE Forum, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MoneySavingExp.
'I grabbed 45GB back' - some inspiration before you start
Freeing up space on your phone is more art than science, and exactly how many GB you'll be able to reclaim will depend on your handset and your tolerance of digital clutter. But before you start, here are a couple of examples of how it can work:
I had 0% storage left. I was having to delete photos on my Google Pixel because it said it was full. Backed everything up to the cloud and Google Photos and restored my phone [to factory settings]. I now have 45GB free.
I was considering getting a new iPhone and wanted to see how much memory I really needed. I worked my way through my pictures, videos, downloads and apps, erasing everything I didn't need. I grabbed more than 20GB back without losing anything I really liked or needed, cutting the memory used on my phone from 45GB to just over 20GB. What's more, it gave me the confidence to go for a smaller, cheaper new phone - I went for the 32GB model rather than the pricier 64GB.
Trying to free up space on my phone before I needed to pay even more a month for storage, I deleted my podcast app as I’d listened to one or two podcasts - didn’t realise it downloaded every episode and so freed up about 3GB.
14 ways to boost your mobile phone's storage
Ready to start? Here are our top storage-salvaging tips, with step-by-step instructions.
Check your operating system
The steps below are based on Android 10 and iOS 14.4, among the most-used versions of each operating system. But if you have an older or newer version, the steps may be slightly different.
Free up space with an audit of your photos, videos, audio & documents – delete the largest & those you don't want
So, what is actually taking up so much space on your phone? It depends on how you use it, of course. It could be photos, videos, audio files, or documents such as PDFs etc.
For many, it's likely photos and videos – both those you take yourself and those sent to you by others – that are using more room than anything else, so getting as many of them off your phone as possible should be your priority.
While deleting photos and videos may seem a bit drastic in this day and age, free online storage isn't as readily available as it once was, so it's worth seeing what you can get rid of before looking to store them elsewhere.
Many people have multiple GBs of various files stored – and if you only have, say, 32GB to play with in total, they can easily take up a large proportion of that. Obviously, what's worth keeping or deleting is subjective, so you've little choice than to go through them manually and sort the wheat from the chaff.
When it comes to finding the largest photos, videos, audio and documents, your phone will do the heavy lifting for you...
On Android, open the Files app – if you don't already have it, download it for free – and it will show you how much space different file types are taking up. To find the largest, tap Images, Videos, Audio, or Documents then the three dots in the top right-hand corner, then Sort by > Largest first. You can then view them, and delete them by tapping and holding the one(s) you want to delete, then tapping the trash can icon, then the Delete button.
On your iOS device, open Settings, then go to General > iPhone Storage > Review Large Attachments. Before you review them it will tell you how much storage you could claim back if you delete them all. You'll be shown large files in order of size; to delete some or all of them, tap Edit, select the files you want to delete, and then tap the trash can icon.
Quick trick to work out which apps you use the least – then hibernate ‘em
If it’s not photos, videos or other files that are clogging up your phone, then it's likely apps are the culprit – according to a study by internet security company Kaspersky, Android users typically add two new apps a month. And as some apps (generally games) can top 1GB, they can quickly eat into your storage.
If you decide to delete an app but then need it again, you will usually be able to re-download it (and if you paid for it, you won't have to pay again), but bear in mind there's no guarantee it will always be available on Google Play or the App Store...
Beware – delete an app and it COULD disappear for good
If you cull an app and it's subsequently removed from Google Play or the App Store by Google/Apple or the publisher, you WON'T be able to download it again, even if you paid for it. Think carefully before you wield the axe.
Often people are reluctant to delete apps because they think they use them, even if they don't. But by doing an app audit, you'll have an idea of which you open daily and which are gathering cyber-dust. On both Android and iPhone there's a quick trick to get your phone to tell you which apps you use least – use that as a guide to what to delete.
On Android, open Play Store and tap the hamburger menu icon in the top left-hand corner, then My apps & games > Installed. Then tap the three-line icon on the right (it should say 'Alphabetical' next to it) and Last used, which will list apps from most recently used to least used. To delete an app, tap [name of app] > Uninstall.
On iOS, there are two ways of doing this. To delete unused apps automatically, go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage and enable Offload Unused Apps – your iPhone will then automatically delete unused apps when you're low on storage, though it will save documents and data from those apps.
To delete unused apps manually, go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage – you'll be able to see how big each of your apps is and when you last used each one. To delete one, tap it's name and then Delete App.
Springclean your apps - clear their caches
Your next target is app caches. That's where your phone stores info from apps so it can be accessed quickly. Over time, this can take up a lot of space – the Facebook app, for example, can balloon from around 50MB to 500MB with a year's typical use. We've also seen the Sky Sports app on an iPhone take up close to 1GB – but following the tip below brought it down to just over 100MB.
Clearing your apps' caches won't wipe any personal data, such as games in progress, messages or pictures – clearing your apps' data WILL though, so make sure you choose the right option.
On Android, open Settings and tap Apps & notifications > See all XYZ apps > [app name] > Storage & cache > Clear cache to clear an app's cache – you'll be able to see how much space the app's cache is using beneath this. Doing this won't wipe any personal data, but make sure you tap the right option.
Unfortunately there's no specific 'clear cache' function for iOS. You can achieve much the same thing by deleting and reinstalling apps though – but bear in mind unless you have iOS 11 or above, doing this probably WILL delete all personal data, such as messages, images and saved games, associated with that app.
The good news is that iOS 11 and up have a feature called 'Offload Unused Apps' that allows you to delete apps, yet retain the data and documents associated with them. To do this, tap Settings > General > iPhone Storage > [app name] > Offload App. To reinstall an app, open the App Store and search for the app in question, then tap the app name and the 'Get' button.
Don’t forget to clean up your browser too
Now that many apps open web pages without you having to leave the app, it’s easy to forget your phone has a browser. But just like other apps, your phone's browser (eg, Safari, Chrome, Firefox) has a cache, which contains your browsing history and other data such as cookies – small files that tailor websites to you.
While clearing your phone’s browser cache is unlikely to free up loads of space - and means you'll have to sign back into any site that needs signing into – but every little helps, particularly if you’re short on time or struggling for options. As a bonus, clearing your browser’s cache can also speed it up a bit.
On Android, open Chrome, tap the three-dot menu at the top right, then Settings > Privacy > Clear browsing data. Tap on the Advanced tab, untick all the boxes apart from Cached images and files (unless there's anything else you want to clear) and then tap Clear data > Clear.
With iOS, go to Settings > Safari > Clear History and Website Data > Clear History and Data.
Seek and destroy hidden or unwanted files which hog space
Your phone is a haven for hidden downloads – podcasts, videos, voice recordings, PDFs, screenshots and just about anything else you can think of which you've subscribed to, been sent or downloaded.
We often take one look or listen, then forget about (and therefore keep) them, so they skulk in a dark corner taking up valuable space. The answer? Do a search of your photo albums, voice memos etc and get rid of them...
Podcasts are among the worst offenders, and the easiest to miss
They are usually somewhere between 25MB and 50MB in size, but once you've downloaded them and listened to them, the chances are you forget about them. And if you download on a weekly basis, the space they take up will quickly grow. So here's how to prune them.
With Android phones, open Podcasts, tap Activity in the bottom left-hand corner and then the Downloads tab. Locate the podcast episode you want to delete, tap the green downwards arrow icon, then tap Remove Download.
With iOS, open Podcasts, go to Library > Downloaded Episodes, swipe left on the episode you want to remove, then tap Remove. To re-download, search for the podcast you want and tap on it, then tap See All Episodes, then on the download symbol next to the episode you want to download.
If you use another app to download podcasts, such as Spotify or Pocket Casts, you'll have to follow a different process to delete them, but it should be straightforward.
Quickly find large files
As mentioned above, photos, videos, documents and other files can easily be hidden on your phone and take up space without you realising. It can be a bit of a faff to track them down, but handily both Android and iOS enable you to quickly and easily find large files all at once, so you can consider what to delete. See how to find the largest files.
Bag FREE online storage for photos and videos you want to keep
Once you've found and deleted photos and videos that you don't want (or that are massive), you can move the photos and videos you want to keep off your device – and you can do that without having to shell out for a hard drive which you'll then have to lock away in a drawer somewhere.
Storing photos and videos online can free up many GBs of space, yet means you can still access and view them on your phone. Best of all, both Android and iPhone users can get FREE online storage via several services.
Google Photos is probably the best known of these. It allows unlimited free storage of photos and videos, though only if you save them in Google's compressed ‘high quality’ format rather than the original. This resizes photos over 16 megapixels to 16 megapixels, which shouldn't be a problem for most.
Unfortunately, from June it will no longer offer free unlimited storage – for full details, see the Google Photos unlimited storage ending MSE News story – but for now it remains the best free option.
Android users may already have Google Photos on their phone, but if not download it for free. Once you have it, go to Google Photos, tap the profile icon in the top right-hand corner and select Photos settings > Back up and sync and turn it on. To delete photos and videos that have been backed up from your phone, go back to the app's home screen, tap the profile icon and select Free up X.YZGB, then tap the Free up X.YZGB button.
Google Photos is probably also your best bet if you have an iOS device – download it for free from the App Store. Open the app and sign in to your Google account – or set one up for free if you don't already have one. Tap the profile icon in the top right-hand corner, then Settings > Back up & sync and turn it on. To delete pics and videos that have been backed up from your phone, got back to the app's home screen, tap the profile icon and select XYZ items to delete from this device, then the Delete XYZ items button.
If you prefer to keep things Apple, iOS devices give you 5GB of free storage on iCloud (you'll need an Apple ID), which you can use to store pics and videos exactly as you took them. This may run out quickly though, especially if you store a lot of video; if so, you can upgrade to 50GB for 79p/mth – full info in Free Online Storage.
To move photos and videos from your phone storage to iCloud automatically, set up iCloud Photo Library by going to Settings > Photos and switching the iCloud Photos button to on. If you turn on Optimise iPhone Storage too, it will automatically replace full-resolution photos and videos on your iPhone with smaller versions – full-res versions can be downloaded from iCloud at any time.
For a full rundown of the top free online storage options, including where's best to store photos at higher resolution and how BT broadband customers can get up to 1,000GB 'free', see our Free Online Storage guide.
Aim for a little less conversation by removing messages (and attachments)
Messages and, in particular, the attachments, such as photos, videos and voice notes, that come with them can quickly build up and use more space than you might think, so go through your text messages, as well as instant messaging apps like WhatsApp to see what you can delete.
MSE Guy had his iPhone for almost seven years and had hardly deleted a message. By clearing old or unimportant messages he freed up a huge 5GB.
iPhone only: Automatically delete old messages
You can set up your iPhone to automatically text messages and attachments in the Messages app that are over one year old.
On iOS, open Settings, then go to General > iPhone Storage and enable Auto Delete Old Conversations. It will show you how much space you can free up by enabling it before you do so.
While the Messages app on Android devices doesn't have a similar feature, unlike on Apple devices you can free up some of the space the app uses by clearing its cache.
Whittle down your WhatsApp data
WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in the UK, but because it stores all the photos, videos, voice notes and other attachments you're sent to your phone, it can quickly and easily start to take up a lot of storage space. On checking WhatsApp on his phone recently, MSE Kelvin found it was taking up a hefty 6.5GB.
Yet here's a way to reduce the space it takes up aside from clearing the cache (which you can't do on an iPhone) or clearing the data – which would mean losing all your personal data – and it's the same for both Android and iOS devices.
Open WhatsApp, tap the three dots in the top right-hand corner, then Settings > Storage and data > Manage storage. You can then review and delete attachments individually – they're categorised into 'Forwarded many times' and 'Larger than 5 MB' so you can easily find and delete those that aren't likely to be personal to you and those that take up most space. It also orders you chats by size, so you can delete attachments from them individually or all in one go.
Reduce the amount of space pre-installed apps take up
Pre-installed apps are the cockroaches of the app world – you can’t vanquish them, no matter how much you dislike them. (Unless, that is, you go nuclear and ‘root’ your Android phone or ‘jailbreak’ your iPhone, which essentially gaining access to your device’s entire system, not just the user interface – this is likely to void your warranty and may do your phone a mischief, so ISN'T recommended).
What you can do is disable pre-installed apps. While they’ll still be on your phone, any updates will be undone, they will no longer receive new updates, the data they’ve gathered will be deleted and they won't run in the background anymore. And while again this is unlikely to save you a huge amount of space, every little helps
To disable pre-installed apps on your Android phone, open Settings and tap Apps & notifications > See all XYZ apps > [app name] > Disable > Disable app. To re-enable, open Settings, tap Apps & notifications > See all XYZ apps > [app name] > Enable.
With iOS, disable pre-installed apps by touching and lightly holding the app you want to disable until it begins to jiggle, tapping the cross on the app, and then tapping Delete. To re-enable a disabled app, open the App Store, search for the app and tap the download icon - the app will be restored to your home screen
Move your music – but don't lose it
If you've a lot of music on your phone, you need to move it to save space – each album takes up around 40MB, which quickly adds up.
To avoid any risk of losing your music for good, it's always best to back it up on another device such as your laptop if you can.
The main alternative to having music on your phone is to use a streaming service such as Spotify – see Free Music Online for more info. But to keep YOUR music collection online you can use Google Play Music, which lets both Android and iPhone users upload up to 50,000 tracks free, then download them or stream them whenever you want.
Beware – delete music and it COULD disappear for good
If you delete it from your phone and store it in Google Play, there's a small risk Google or the publisher could then remove the track from Google Play Music, in which case you WON'T be able to re-download it. To avoid this, save a copy on another device or elsewhere online as well.
Here's how to transfer your tracks to Google Play Music:
Apple users can download the Google Play Music app for free from the App Store – you just need a free Google login. To upload music you'll need to sync your phone with iTunes on a computer, then sync iTunes with Google Play Music on the web.
Alternatively, if you bought the majority of your MP3s from iTunes, you could simply delete them from your phone, then re-download them when you want to listen to them. However the risk mentioned above also applies here – in the event a track or album's pulled from iTunes by Apple or the publisher, you're unlikely to be able to download it again.
Get rid of offline Google Maps
You can download areas from Google Maps and save them to your phone so you can navigate offline. It’s a really useful feature – particularly if you want to dodge hefty mobile roaming fees while abroad. But a single downloaded map can hog up to 1GB of phone storage, so removing downloaded maps could save you a fair amount of space.
Whether you’ve an Android or iOS device, the process of deleting downloaded areas from Google Maps is the same. Open Google Maps and tap the hamburger menu icon in the top left, then tap Offline maps > [downloaded map you want to delete] > Delete > Delete.
Shelve the e-books you’re not reading
If you’ve downloaded e-books to your phone that you’ve read or are some way down your ‘to read’ list, get rid of 'em.
You can download them again if and when you want them, or you can read them online provided you have sufficient data or you’re connected to free Wi-Fi. Not storing them on your phone can save you around 2MB per book.
Beware – delete books and they COULD disappear for good
The same warning applies here as for apps, music and more. If you delete a book from your phone and store it in the cloud, there's a small risk Google, Apple or the publisher could then pull the book, in which case you WON'T be able to re-download it.
Here's how to remove your books from your phone:
With Android, open Google Play Books, tap the three-line menu icon in the top left and switch on Downloaded only. Return to the app's home screen, go to the Library tab and tap on the three-dot menu icon in the right corner of the title you want to delete, then Remove download and Remove. To re-download, switch off Downloaded only, go to Library and tap on the three-dot menu icon on the right of the title, then Download.
With iOS, open Books, select the title you want to remove, tap on the three-dot menu icon underneath it and tap Remove > Remove Download. To re-download, open Books, search for the title or find it in the 'Reading Now' section, tap the three-dot menu icon underneath it and then Download.
Kindle app user? Any books, magazines, newspapers or audiobooks you've stored on your phone via the app will be using up space. Remove items by pressing and holding them while in the content library, then selecting 'Remove' (Android) or 'Remove from Device' (iPhone).
Android only: Empty your Files app
The Files app on Android phones is where some of the unnecessary data that ends up on them hides out, be it junk files downloaded by apps, or documents, images, audio files and videos you’ve downloaded and forgotten about.
You may have erased some of these files already while cleaning up elsewhere, but if not, emptying the folder could save you 50MB-100MB - maybe more if you've never emptied it before. Again, not a lot, but if you’ve trying to eke out space so you can take a photo and time is of the essence, this will do the job in a jiffy.
All you have to do is open Files on your Android handset, tap and hold the file you want to delete, then tap the bin icon when it appears, then OK. To empty the folder in one go, instead of tapping the bin icon, tap the three-dot menu icon in the top right corner, then Select all, then tap the bin icon and OK.
Delete films and TV shows – or store them elsewhere
This works on the same principle as apps, music and books. If you’ve downloaded a single HD movie from Google Play, iTunes or anywhere else, it will take up 3GB-5GB. If they’re TV programmes or films you’ve paid for, you'll usually be able to re-download them or stream them if you delete them.
Beware – delete a film or TV show and it COULD go for good
If you delete a film or TV show you've paid for, there's a small risk Google, Apple or the copyright holder could pull it from Google Play Movies or iTunes, in which case you WON'T be able to re-download it. To avoid this it's worth saving your downloads on another device or elsewhere online if you can.
Here's how to delete films you no longer want or have saved elsewhere:
With Android, open Google Play Movies & TV, tap the three-line menu icon in the top left corner, then Settings > Manage downloads > [film, series or episode] > Remove.
To delete films and TV programmes downloaded to iOS devices, go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage > TV > Review Apple TV Downloads, then find the film, series or episode you want to delete, swipe left on it, then tap Delete.
If you've films or shows downloaded within apps such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime Video, you should be able to remove them from within each app.
Hold off updating your operating system
OK, so this isn't a long-term solution. Operating system updates usually include security patches, so you should update as soon as possible for obvious reasons.
But if you're short of storage in the short-term and are willing to risk a delay in getting the latest security updates, it could be worth holding off for a few days and then checking online to see how much space people are saying the update is taking up.
Larger updates can use up around 30MB. While that’s not a huge amount, it could be significant if you’re really struggling to free up space or simply haven’t had time to try the other tips in this guide.
Remember, by holding off updating your phone's operating system you potentially expose yourself to security risks these updates are designed to fix. Only put off the update as a last resort, and make doing it as soon as you can a priority.
Check if an update could actually SAVE you space. Some major operating system updates may actually free up space on your phone - for example, iOS 10.3 introduced a new file storage system that was widely reported to free up a small amount of storage when installed.
Here's how to make sure your phone DOESN'T update until you want it to:
With most Android devices, you can't stop them from nagging you to update to the latest version of the operating system, but most give you the option of downloading it or delaying it when they do, so opt for the latter.
With iOS, go to Settings > Software Update > Automatic Updates and then switch 'Automatic Updates' to off. Your iPhone may have already downloaded an update for installation – delete this by opening Settings and tapping General > iPhone Storage > [iOS update] > Delete Update and then Delete Update in the alert window.
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